PIANO FAQ

Q How does a piano work?

A piano makes its sound by having tuned strings which are struck by hammers. When a key is depressed it activates a mechanism which throws the hammer at the appropriate string (or strings) and lifts the damper off to allow the strings) to vibrate freely. The hammer strikes the string, bounces off and is caught by a checking device. The strings) vibrate at a set pitch or frequency (different for each note). The strings are stretched tightly across "bridges" which are mounted on the "soundboard" to which the vibration is transferred. The sound is amplified by means of the soundboard which is a large flat piece of wood which effectively acts as a large loudspeaker.

The sound of a piano is made by metal "strings" vibrating. This sound is amplified by the "soundboard". When a key is pressed the action of the piano transfers the momentum of the moving key to a felt hammer which is launched towards the strings for that particular note. The hammer strikes the strings and bounces off leaving the strings to vibrate. As the key is depressed the action lifts the damper away from the strings to allow the strings to vibrate. When the key is released the hammer falls back into place and the damper is returned to the strings to stop them vibrating.

When the key is released, the hammer falls back to its normal resting place and the damper is pressed back onto the string's) to stop the vibration and thus the sound.

Q What is concert pitch?

Concert pitch means merely that the note A above middle C is vibrating at exactly 440 times per second. Assuming that the piano is in tune with itself the whole piano is "At concert pitch". Sometimes in older pianos the frame will not take the strain of concert pitch (the higher the pitch, the more tension on the strings and frame). This means that it has to be tuned ""lower", "flatter" or "down": this is where, with the piano in tune with itself A above middle C would be vibrating at less than 440 times per second. A common pitch for older pianos is "one semitone down" A=415 this means that if you strike the C key it will actually make the sound B, if you strike an F key it will make the sound E, etc. This means that you cannot use the piano to accompany other instruments unless you transpose all the piano music back up a semitone (which is a feat done only by rare musicians!). It also plays havoc with people with "Perfect Pitch", as their hands tell them one thing and their ears tell them another!

Q What about Grand Pianos?

Grand pianos come in many different makes, types and sizes. Grand pianos are considered to be better than upright pianos for two reasons.

The bass strings are longer (in a six foot or larger grand) than in an upright piano: the tone of a piano depends mainly on the length of string, the longer the better.

The "Roller" action found in modern grand gives a much better playing response than the best upright pianos vertical action.

Concert grand pianos are over nine feet long. The sound they produce is very powerful. Some models even have an extra eight keys in the bass so they have ninety six notes all together (compared to the usual eighty eight or eighty five.)

"Baby" grand go down to four foot in length, but in my experience these pianos are not as good as a good upright. You can hear the difference in bass tone between a baby grand and a good upright .

Q What size is a baby grand piano ?

These terms are not really in use any more.
Grand are now simply classified by size.
 

Small Grand under 5

Baby Grand 5 to 55

Medium Grand 56 to 59

Living Room Grand - 5'10"

Professional Grand - 6'

Drawing Room Grand - 6'4"

Parlour Grand 6'8"

Semi Concert Grand - 7'4"

Concert Grand - 8' 11' and larger

Q How much is my piano worth?

This depends very much on the make of piano, the type of piano, its age, general condition, and so on.

Q How often should my piano be tuned ?

This is a matter of personal taste. There are two extremes. Some people never have their pianos tuned because they say "I am tone deaf" (which is a myth). Pianos used for concerts are usually tuned before each concert, and often during the intermission.

Most domestic pianos require tuning every six months. This is not because they suddenly "go out of tune" at the six month mark but because they are gradually going out of tune all the time but six months is about the point at which most people notice they sound "off"

Q What is "Regulation ?"

Regulation or Action Regulation is essential to having a well responding piano. It is the setting up of each part of a piano action so that it does exactly what it should. This involves leveling the keys, fixing any broken action parts, and setting up each action part to its correct position / travel etc. A regulated piano has a uniformly graduated touch response and tone throughout its compass. See the for details on how it is done.

Q What causes "Sticky Notes ?"

A sticky note is one where the note does not respond quite as it should e.g. it can be played once.

There are many causes of sticky notes!

Common symptoms / causes and cures (upright pianos)

The note is played and the key stays down:

The key itself is physically stuck down:

The front of the key is fouling on the slip rail

Slip rails is warped - shave some off or reposition it

The front bushings are binding on the key pin

The key pin is rusty - clean or replace

The bushings need lubricating and / or easing

The key is free but the action has not returned:

The note is played and the key returns but when struck again the note does not sound

The hammer has not returned

The tape has broken - replace

The hammer flange is stiff - lubricate or re-pin

The butt spring is broken - replace

combination of the above

The jack has not returned under the hammer butt

The jack (spiral spring) is broken - replace

The jack flange is stiff lubricate / re-pin

The key capstan is adjusted too high - adjust down

The whippen has not returned to its correct position

The whippen flange requires lubrication / re-pinning

The front of the whippen is fouling (the frame sometimes) - shave some off (!)

The damper spoon is corroded / caught against back of damper bottom (under damper only) - replace damper box cloth and / or clean / replace spoon